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Gender Mainstreaming: Rhetoric or Reality? A Case of VSO Tanzania

Gender mainstreaming was identified as a key approach to achieving greater gender equality, during the Fourth UN World Conference on Women in 1995. Despite a great deal of research being carried out on why challenges persist for implementing gender mainstreaming within development organisations, there has been very little enquiry into the particular challenges that volunteer-sending organisations may face in this regard. With international volunteer organisations playing an increasing role within the development arena, this piece of research therefore aimed to examine the experiences of one volunteer organisation in particular, that of Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO), focusing specifically on one of its country offices in Tanzania.

For the purpose of this study I undertook qualitative research in order to analyse how various VSO stakeholders experienced gender mainstreaming activities within the organisation. This involved conducting semi-structured interviews with 8 VSO staff members and 3 VSO partner organisations, as well as the use of semi-standardised questionnaires with 27 volunteers. The aim of the research was to examine whether the current gender mainstreaming strategies employed by VSO Tanzania are effective in promoting greater gender equality within the organisation itself as well as with its partner organisations. Specifically the research aimed to look at how VSO volunteers and VSO partners were engaged in mainstreaming activities, and whether or not volunteers pose any additional challenges in mainstreaming gender.

Findings revealed that although great efforts had been made internally within VSO Tanzania to promote gender equality, that efforts to mainstream gender with VSO partner organisations had been less successful. The primary research indicates that although a huge emphasis is placed on volunteers to mainstream gender with their partner organisations, that a significant proportion of volunteers did not feel equipped to do this. Volunteers demonstrated varying degrees of commitment, ability and confidence in addressing gender issues. Current monitoring and evaluation of gender mainstreaming activities was also found to be lacking. In particular, there were no systems in place to assess how effective volunteers are in mainstreaming gender, as the current emphasis tends to be on evaluating the partner organisation, as opposed to the volunteer.


Sarah Marshall 2011


Permanent link to this article: http://kimmagedsc.ie/dissertation/gender-mainstreaming-rhetoric-or-reality-a-case-of-vso-tanzania/